The virtualization wars heated up again last week when Microsoft announced that the next release of Hyper-V will include Live Migration, its version of VMotion, and High Availability (HA) features for free. Currently, these features are not included for free in VMware’s free edition of ESXi; VMotion is only available in the Advanced and Enterprise versions of vSphere; and HA is included in all but the free and the low-end Essentials edition. This just serves as further proof that Microsoft is desperate to catch up with VMware and win new customers and existing VMware customers.

Microsoft can afford to give things away for free as it has deep pockets and offers a great deal of other products and services. If Microsoft was the clear leader in the virtualization space, than it would more than likely be charging customers for Hyper-V and other advanced features. Right now, though, Microsoft is playing catch-up, and giving things away for free is the best way to do that. Because Hyper-V is relatively new it just can’t compete with VMware in areas such as features, performance and product maturity so Microsoft continues to hammer away at the one area that is easy for them to compete at: cost.

So how will VMware respond to this? Most likely, VMware will match Microsoft’s initiative and add VMotion and HA functionality to the free version of ESXi, and possibly one-up Microsoft by also including another management product for free.

VMotion by itself is a useful feature but by no way a critical component to a virtual environment; it simply allows a VM to migrate from one host to another without any downtime, handy? Yes. Necessary? Not so much. VMotion is mostly useful when patching hosts and doing hardware maintenance that requires a host to be shut down or restarted. VMotion, however, is the foundation for many other advanced features like Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and Distributed Power Management (DPM), which require VMotion in order to work. Those features have direct benefits as they help ensure a well-balanced environment and also result in cost savings from lower power consumption.

In my opinion, if VMware chooses to follow suite and give HA and VMotion away, it wouldn’t hurt VMware too much. Many customers will still want the additional features like DRS and DPM that rely on VMotion. Further, it’s possible to get HA functionality for free on ESX hosts via a few different methods, so giving HA away for free would be a good move. As we get closer to the release date for Hyper-V R2, expect VMware to fire back at Microsoft in some way to even out the playing field.